On December 1st, Arianna wrote a piece about the terrifying state of America's economy.
We've pulled together a selection of some of the standout stories to share with the rest of our readers -- both to do our part to document the downturn and to make sure that everyone out there feeling the financial pressure knows that they are not alone.
Like we said, the meltdown will be blogged. By you.
Now, we'd like to hear your tips for surviving the holiday during this tumultuous time. Have you had to cut corners this season? Share your tips, tricks, and ideas on getting through the holidays on a budget here. Please be specific! We want to share your ideas with the rest of our readers.
To share your stories, your tips, your fears, or your ideas with us, click here and fill out the simple form.
I emerged from UCLA Law School in 2006, newly minted with a law degree to pile on top of my Ivy league undergraduate degree and encountered a world brimming with opportunity. Entrance into the private sector could not come quickly enough for me. I spent my 3 years in grad school watching my early-20's peers, many of them poorly educated and mildly talented, make bundles of cash in real estate, finance, and the mortgage business and I wanted in on it. To put this in perspective, a 25-year old real estate broker friend of mine (no dummy, but never a standout in any walk of life) ended 2007 making more money in a single year than most of my childhood friend's parents ever did...and I was raised in Beverly Hills.
While they were establishing a financial foundation and flipping condos via interest only mortgages, I waited impatiently as I watched the unsung ball-and-chain of student loan debt wrap increasingly tighter around neck. Nevertheless, I found myself fortunate enough to land a job as an attorney at a film producer/finance company and follow my passion for entertainment while getting paid handsomely, albeit nowhere nearly as much as my classmates who entered big national law firms. I figured entertainment law was worth a shot since, hey, a UCLA law degree is the ultimate "safety net." I mean, any classmate of mine who decided to pursue fields other than law got any job they wanted, no matter grades or industry experience. With solid grades and strong resume, why would I be any different?
As 2007 ended, storm clouds began to appear on the horizon. The entertainment industry was reeling from the Writer's Guild Strike and my company, financed by a private real estate trust, was having financial trouble. The hammer finally came down in February as I was let go due to "company re-structuring" (they basically imploded and were trying to keep it quiet, but anyways). After I weathered the initial shock, I pushed forward as enthused as ever, certain that the finance and real estate companies that I had rejected in order to pursue the entertainment industry would welcome me with open arms. I mean hey, entertainment would have been nice, but there were no other jobs in the field, law or otherwise, at that time that were going to pay me enough to live and make my student loan payments, so I might as well sell out a bit and cash in like all my friends. I recalled the sage advice of my corporate compatriots: "Yeah you want to go live a fantasy in the entertainment biz. Join real estate if you wanna make real money." "Dude, if you went into finance you'd be making so much f***ing money." I was ready to buy. Too bad no one was selling anymore.
On March 16th, Bear Stearns collapsed and the real estate/finance gravy train had officially passed me by. Everywhere I turned, doors were not shut in my face, but gently closed with a note "Great resume, love you, but we're not hiring right now. Check in with us next year." Even firms that had given me juicy offers barely 12 months before were out of play, either on hiring freezes or no longer willing to waive 3 to 5 years of experience simply for a candidate with a law degree. If I had a nickel for every time a recruiter referred to me as a "Bull Market Hire", I'd certainly have enough for a Kobe beef burger and bottle of Pierre Jouet. I must admit it was a struggle financially, but my sacrifices do not even begin to compare with those who experienced the true brunt of the economic collapse.
I do not have kids and did not lose the home that housed them. I did not get canned from a $350,000/year banking job. I have landed on my feet and do work that does not necessarily inspire me nor present growth opportunities, but hey "gotta pay the bills" until the storm blows over. What I and my generation have experienced during their first substantive economic downturn is a death of opportunity. A universe of open horizons has become a world of brick walls. The stimulation of being able to pursue self-fulfillment and monetary satisfaction as one has extinguished. Perhaps my generation could use a little more pursuit of the former and a little less of the latter, but let's be honest, it would be nice to have both.
When people speak of economic "depression", they use it not to provide a metaphor for a decrease in GDP and stock market value. Economic "depression" is meant to be translated literally to mean the gloom and dejection that lingers from a loss of hope. It is constant battle to fight and a daily struggle to control. This "depression" will no doubt run its course and after dealing with the shock of this collapse I find many of my cohorts excited about the opportunity that this will eventually and inevitably bring. Old broken business models will finally be relegated to the dust bin of economic history and with that will come a chance for my talented peers to establish new products, services, and business methods that hopefully will turn out to be more effective than that of our parents. And yes, I will admit it, it will be nice not to have to watch my mortgage broker non-college graduate ex-neighbor speed by in a leased Bentley.
Matthew, Los Angeles, CA
Most of my friends, who all graduated from great colleges, don't have a job that pays over $8 an hour now. The economy is so terrible that barely anyone is hiring. And of course, the only way to get good health insurance is through a job with benefits. We're all just trying to make it through.
Mary Beth, Chapel Hill, NC
I work for AT&T, and if you have heard the announcement, they will cut 12,000 job domestically. I don't know if I am on the chopping block or not, that will be found out in the days to come. I can say though that there are over 2,000 contractors based either in India or in U.S., that work for Indian based contract companies. I'm watching as U.S. workers lose their jobs...when they could be taking on the jobs of the oversees contractors. I hear complaints on immigration in this country...but immigrants from Mexico are not taking our good jobs. Skilled jobs. College degree jobs. These are being shipped out of country. When is this going to stop???? It isn't just AT&T....look at Verizon, Microsoft, PG&E, and the list probably goes on and on. I heard on the news the other day, a Health Insurance company in the Midwest is outsourcing surgery to India. They are sending American citizens to India for surgery....WTF!!! We need to be outraged! We need to demand better for ourselves and better for our country. This has to stop.
I am 54 years old, educated, hard working and a single parent. I have a job and am grateful every day that I do. I still have my home but my neighbor is losing hers. I know that I am just a health crisis or job loss away from losing mine. I cut back on everything, shop at thrift stores, don't go to movies or out for dinner, no trips to Starbucks folks. I am just grateful when I can afford to go to the dentist. I have no credit cards, but still have plenty of debt. I don't think about retirement, I doubt that it will be an option, hopefully my health will hold out. I work with children and feel badly when I watch the effects this economy is having on Americans of all ages. This so-called recession has been going on for sometime from my point of view. My heart goes out to all the people out there who are doing everything they can to hang on despite very difficult odds. There but for the grace of good fortune go I.
Vaunnie, Delano, MN
I am currently a stay-at-home mom with our two year old son (though I loathe that label, sounds like a directive of house arrest, but you get what I mean - I've "off-ramped" for now). While I intended to continue working in my profession as a training and e-learning developer, it did not work out that way. Nothing to do with the recession, just a typical case of maternal profiling. Fortunately, we had more than enough of a monthly cushion to allow me to be with our son rather than start a new job while he was a newborn. Medical issues prevented me from doing so immediately and in the end, it all worked out.
At least, it was working. Even with "great" insurance, we had exorbitant medical bills from our son's and my extended hospital stay. We then found out the mortgage payment we had signed into as first-time homeowners, very naively trusting the professionals we had hired, was filled with "estimates" that ballooned to $700 a month more in assessments, taxes and escrow than we were told it would be. It was not an ARM, we had refinanced that to something more traditional. It was just our lender fudging the numbers until he came up with something we liked. It mattered not to him that he lied to our faces; he sold the loan to Chase and got the commission. A learning experience for us. Still, we managed.
I learned to sew, make soap, furnish and decorate our new place for next to nothing, create simple toys, etc., and we vowed to bake and cook everything from scratch (doesn't hurt that my husband is a chef, although being in a luxury industry is very nerve-wracking right now). Pre-school, which is $7,000-15,000 a year in the city, will be put off indefinitely. We are in the middle-class trap of being too well-off for assistance but too broke to afford such things. The cost of daycare and associated costs nearly negate my salary. Since I have two education degrees so I've decided to teach our son myself, using our neighborhood as our classroom. I joke that I am now a frontier woman of downtown Chicago.
"Why not sell your place?" people have asked, to which we laugh a very rueful laugh. Even with a modest dwelling in a "prime" location, we are now upside-down on our loan, as so many are. Besides, my husband can walk to work, so we gave up our cars and joined a car-sharing service for emergencies. Why would we trade a downtown place for a commute and car payment in this economy? We would have to sell for approximately $25,000 less than what we owe. Not a great option, to say the least. And so: we have dealt with hospital bills, shady lending practices, a down real estate market, rising grocery costs, city taxes, etc etc etc. Still, we are paying off our student loans and credit cards. Yay us!
Then, my mom ran into trouble in Florida. Due to foreclosures on her block, she could not sell her home for even half of what she owed on it. She had been trying to sell for years to move to a more manageable apartment. The advice from real estate agents until fairly recently was to sell high, it was worth so much, she could retire on the proceeds, yadda yadda. She listened to the hype. Of course, the market crashed and took her home value with it. She was working at a hospital that kept cutting (non-union) hours for "floor closures" as a budget measure, all while she took care of my grandmother. Between having her hours cut, time off for Gram's care and eventual funeral, and four hurricanes causing damage to a home that she could not sell (FEMA assistance was a joke that year), she got into serious debt. At our urging, she is now filing Chapter 13 and moving in with us. We had always invited her to do so, but we thought we would be in a home that could accommodate her. She will now be living with the three of us in our two-bedroom condo. Tight quarters. The upside? Our son will benefit from her presence and I will finally have family childcare.
My marriage and mind may suffer a bit from this tight arrangement, but we've put our big kid pants on around here and it will simply have to work out. So, to recap my family's situation: Exorbitant hospital bills Shady lending practices Rising grocery costs Jump in city taxes Job instability - fine dining industry Two upside-down mortgages - unable to move Bankruptcy Early inter-generational living/sandwich generation issues Ta-da! That's us. But with all of the worries and as tough as the last two years have been, we have never been happier or closer. It sounds cheesy but it is true. Home is where my family is, even if that family has stopped using store-bought paper towels, soap, toys and clothes and has my mom crashing on the couch. We may be broke but we are eco-chic.
Jeannine, Chicago, IL
I just graduated from high school this past spring, and I'm taking a year off before beginning college. I'm working at a theater in NYC right now and we just had to cancel one of the productions we were most excited about because it's a nonprofit theater and some outside funding for this project fell through due to the current economic situation. I'm moving back to Los Angeles in less than two weeks to work in TV, and I'm curious to see how the economic crisis will affect that world as well.
Annie, Los Angeles, CA
My story is a bit different in terms of how the downturn in the housing market has affected us. Though it is less calamitous than many, it still illustrates the widespread challenge we all face: In July of 2007 I took a new job in Scottsdale, AZ, where my wife, 5 children and I had been living for 10 years after moving from Edison, NJ, in 1997. The opportunity was promising but quickly deteriorated when the parent company of my division decided to sell the division. As this was unfolding I began to search for another job knowing my time was limited. The search included opportunities back in the NJ/PA area just in case nothing was available in Scottsdale. In August, 2008, I got a job offer in King of Prussia, PA. The offer was generous and the opportunity was terrific, but the company would not buy my house in Scottsdale. Therefore, we were left with having to either sell or rent our house in AZ while renting a house in NJ/PA. My hope was that we would be able to sell or rent the Scottsdale house within 3-4 months.
Unfortunately for us, this happened right at the peak of the meltdown. The housing market came a screeching halt and now we're left with having to pay a mortgage plus a rent on the house in NJ. I cannot afford to maintain these 2 residences much longer and will have to make a hard decision fairly soon: move back or stay. If we move back, how will we afford the moving costs again? If we stay, how will we afford the 2 rents/mortgages? Even if the house sells, will we be able to get a mortgage in NJ/PA given the credit crunch? More background: I make a good salary (6 figures and my wife is a part time teacher) but it's still not enough. Bottom-line: EVERYONE is affected one way or another. Rich, poor, employed, unemployed, east coast, west coast.
Marc, Scottsdale, AZ
It's odd. This year I will make the highest salary I have ever earned in my life. Yet I am barely treading water. The cost of absolutely everything has gone up and my savings is almost nil, thanks to the Recession and to my previous addiction to runaway consumption. I was one of those people who refinanced my home (twice) and now carry a mortgage I am just barely affording. There have been 2 rounds of layoffs this year at my firm and I am fairly certain there will be more. I am 61 years old and if I were to lose my job before I am ready to retire (which is looking like never these days) I'm not at all sure I would survive, or would want to.
I have always been blessed with the ability to sleep through the night. Yet in recent months I have nightmares clearly connected with financial anxiety, that wake me up several times a night. I know that at this moment many people have it much worse than I do. It is hard to take any comfort in that when you know that any days you could be the next layoff, the next foreclosure, the next loss of health insurance, the next bag lady. I find myself oddly more generous with charities and with the occasional beggar on the street than I was last year. I feel much closer to people in need. It's not that I believe in any cosmic payback necessarily. It's just that the desperation is so palpable and there is no escape from it.
Lesley, Jackson Heights, Queens, NY
I don't believe that the economy should dictate how many children you have and yet here I am. My wife and I are about to welcome our third child and as I am unable, in this new economic model, to afford even the three we have I am joining the military (for the health insurance primarily) and we are resolving, through medical procedure, to not have anymore children despite the fact that we have agreed when we were newlyweds that our minimum was going to be four.
Josef, Pittsburgh, PA
It's always best to hear both sides of the story, I think. Right now, my husband and I haven't been hit by the economic downturn yet. We are both lucky enough to have retired from jobs that are still paying a pension plan (teacher and former Fed employee) and are old enough (68/69) that we actually have Social Security. Plus, we are both still working part time in jobs that we enjoy. It also might be that this part of Texas hasn't been hit as hard as other parts of the country. Could we use more? Of course. The house needs a ton of work. We just put on an expensive new roof (metal) and were able to get the credit for that. (We live in the woods and hope that will be a fire deterrent) Our health care is astronomically high, but at least we have good coverage and can afford it right now. We still have a little extra so that we can go camping, play in our kayaks, hike, sometimes bike, and generally, enjoy life. We consider ourselves VERY lucky at this point.
Fran, Bastrop, TX
Keep coming back to the Living page to see what other HuffPost readers had to say and to learn meaningful and practical ways to cope with and learn from these troubled times.